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a small, secretive group that disrupts the everyday life of a larger community. But “we” is also somewhat paradoxical. How can a single voice express the thoughts of a group? So it sometimes happens that an “I” breaks free from the “we” and presents itself as a personal voice within the “we” for which it speaks. This happens in [the story] “Dangerous Laughter,” where the narrator reports his private experience, as well as the experiences of a group of teenagers engaged in questionable rites. “Questionable rites”—what an alluring phrase. As a collection, Dangerous Laughter is filled with provocative rituals or experiments: the tactile breakthroughs described in “TheWizard ofWest Orange,” the erotic games of “The Room in the Attic.” How difficult was it to write stories vividly describing the unknown or only semiknown? Believe me, it’s difficult enough to describe what’s known. The special difficulty of describing the unknown and semiknown lies in the continual threat of abstraction. It’s necessary to make the invisible vivid and exact—an almost impossible task. I find the challenge exhausting and exhilarating. You also touch on the difficulty of words in “History of a Disturbance,” where the narrator suddenly finds language too inadequate to continue with. Anyone who lives with words feels their power but also their impotence. That story explored one of my secret fears. I suspect this is a stretch, but are there any secret fears related to “A Precursor to the Cinema,” wherein the fictitious painter Harlan Crane disappears within his own work using “animate paint”? I don’t really fear disappearing into my own work, though I enjoy imagining artists whose hold on reality is fragile.When you imagine yourself into another world, day after day, your relation to the actual world becomes strange. It’s this strangeness that I like to explore. So much of your work involves the detailed creation of other forms of art and structures: Martin Dressler’s hotels, the paintings in “Catalogue of the Exhibition,” the cartoon in “Cat ’n’ Mouse.” Is there also a kind of reverse momentum, where the imaginary construction of other artistic forms returns to alter or influence your own writing? In describing the lifetime work of an imaginary painter, do you then begin to write like a painter? Unless I’m deluding myself, which is always possible, I believe that I imagine as a writer, and only as a writer. Of course, part of being a writer is imagining yourself into other temperaments, other worlds. If I invent a painter, I imagine what it might be like to be a painter. I try to see the world through a painter’s eyes. But finally, the painter uses paint; I use words—and that’s the crucial difference. It’s true that in minor ways, other artistic forms might influence the structure of a story. I once wrote a story that was nothing but a description of an invented comic book. I divided the story into separate paragraphs that I called panels. In that small but noticeable way, the form I was writing about influenced the structure of the story. But that’s very different from writing like a comic-book artist.


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Based solely on your writing, it’s easy to picture that you compose like a mad scientist in a garret laboratory. I like that image, because it appeals to my vanity. Who wouldn’t want to be thought of as a mad scientist in a garret? In truth, I spent many years writing in an attic study, but that hasn’t been the case for a long time. What you need as a writer is a quiet place that you can go to every day.You need to banish the world, so that another world can grow. These days, I write in a small room in a library. If there are any foaming beakers in there, that’s my secret. Do the exhaustions and exhilarations of writing change with experience? Essentially they’re the same. You’re still struggling to find the right rhythms, still grateful to be swept into a story. One thing that does change is the sense of your place in time. In the beginning, you can feel unwritten books stretching away in a never-ending future. When you’re over 60, each book has the weight of finality. This isn’t as grim as it sounds—it has an exhilaration all its own. 4/08 CHRONOGRAM BOOKS 55

Chronogram - April 2008  
Chronogram - April 2008  

A regional magazine dedicated to stimulating and supporting the creative and cultural life of New York's beautiful Hudson Valley. - April 20...